Colma is a town just south of San Francisco, between the airport and the city. Surprisingly, many of the people who live there that I've talked to never really stop to think twice about the fact that there are nearly two million people buried in this tiny town, which spans about two miles from one side to the other. The city is a necropolis, which is a term derived from the Greek word nekropolis. Nekropolis literally translates to "city of the dead." However, the contemporary version of the word has come to mean any space serving as a burial ground for the dead, which is exactly what Colma is: A small town in northern California, where there are a ton of dead people buried.
When I got off the Bay Area Rapid Transit in Colma for the first time, it was pitch black out. My friend Tom and I wanted to kick off our time in the necropolis by shooting photos of the sunrise. I'd read stories about the town and its abundance of gravestones and cemeteries. What I didn't realize was that there are gravestones everywhere, including the medians of the streets and out in front shopping strip malls. What we were greeted with when we got off the train was just about as quirky and bizarre as we anticipated. Smiles were the norm. People were super friendly and really happy to talk about their cemeteries, which they referred to as their city's parks. They referred to the dead buried in Colma as their neighbors, and wouldn't stop joking about how quiet and pleasant they are.
It's a weird combination of the suburban American dream and the common American horror story, with a heavy dose of capitalism thrown in the mix. Founded in 1924 as the largest necropolis in the country, the town's entire socio-economic and cultural heartbeat lies in burying and maintaining dead bodies. Turns out this isn't a bad living, considering people don't and won't ever stop dying. There is no shortage of business for the cemetery owners and monument builders. In 2010, the population of Colma was marked at just shy of 1,800 people. With nearly two million bodies buried in two square miles, the dead outnumber the living 1,000 to one. I came to find out during my time there that despite this alarming ratio, the people who basically live in a giant cemetery are really happy, and life in Colma is pretty normal.
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